Our series on saints during this kingdom season began last week with Frideswide, a 7/8th century local saint. This week I’m going to look at the life of a modern saint. In what were for many years empty niches above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, there are now statues of 10 modern martyrs. They come from different continents and many denominations. The individual martyrs are intended to represent all who have died for their faith. It seems appropriate on this Remembrance Sunday to focus on one of these.
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest. He was born in 1894. From an early age he had a particular devotion to the BVM. He joined the Conventual Franciscans. He obtained a doctorate in Philosophy at the age of 21 an a Doctorate of Theology when he was 28. He was ordained priest in 1918 and he went to India and Japan, where he and other brothers founded monasteries. In 1936 ill health forced him to return to Poland, where he became involved in publishing journals, some of which were controversial. He provided shelter for refugees, including hiding many jews in the monastery. During this time he was allowed to continue his religious publishing. He was arrested in 1941 and eventually sent to Auschwitz where he continued his priestly ministry, hearing confessions and celebrating Mass.
When a prisoner in his own block escaped, 10 men were chosen to face death by starvation as a warning against any further escape attempts. He was not one of these, but he volunteered to take the place of a man who had a wife and family. After the men had been starved for 2 weeks, only Kolbe and 3 others remained. The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they were killed with an injection of carbolic acid. Kolbe died on 14 August 1941 and was eventually canonised in 1982 as a martyr by Pope John Paul II. The Anglican church commemorates him on the anniversary of his death.
In an act of great love he offered to take the place of another man wo did survive the holocaust. In our gospel reading Jesus speaks of coming destruction and persecutions. Jesus has some warnings for his disciples, urging them not to be deceived by those claiming to be the Messiah. It is a time to stand firm and wait. He encourages them to stand firm in the face of persecution, seeing this as an opportunity to witness to God’s love, assuring them that the Holy Spirit will give them the words they need.
Today Christians are still persecuted for their faith in many parts of the world. Today we are living in challenging times, but like the disciples, we have that same assurance of God’s presence with us and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We too must stand firm and wait to hear Gods’ word to us.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest